Monday, January 27, 2014

nineteen

I walk slow circles in the fallen snow. The silence of falling flakes is broken by the crunch of layer upon layer of compacted, frozen white. A puppy dances around my legs, biting excitedly at my bootlaces and nosing holes in the fluffy snow.

I'm thinking about my mom. It's January, so I do that. I stick my tongue out to capture a snowflake and laugh softly when I catch one. I'm almost thirty five and she's been gone for nineteen years. She has been gracing heaven's halls for more than half my life.

There are times when grief is a teacher and your heart smoothes itself carefully into a new space, longing to be filled, not overwhelmed.

There are times when grief is a brutal taskmaster, raining blow on blow upon the broken.

And there are moments when time has done the quiet work of healing across seasons and milestones and the slow ticking of years, and there is so nothing to say.

Nothing but:

'I miss you.'
'We miss you.'
'There is so much I have to tell you.'

And yet – after nineteen years – there is finality in knowing that grace has eased our lives along to the point where there is no space for her. We could not draw her life and beauty back into the canvas of our lives without overwriting what else exists here. Who else exists here.

This is grace: despite grief, despite sorrow, despite that ever-present ache of absence, our lives overflow with blessing we didn't ask for, expect, or even desire.

And sometimes, so overcome by grace and the pure gift of mystery it remains for us, there is nothing left to say.

Nothing but:

'Miss you, Mama. Can't wait to see you again. We’re another year closer.'

Thursday, December 19, 2013

{advent: week three} Not Forgotten

Photo Credit: Jon Beall
I don’t think it was until the third year of our Advent celebration as a married couple that I started to struggle as much with the Christmas season. In the years prior, I thought “who knows where we’ll be at this time next year?” However, by the third year, my thoughts started to shift toward, “what if I do know where we’ll be at this time next year?” Still childless, still wanting, still waiting.

I think the Advent season causes those of us with a sentimental bent to latch on to it all the more. What with the cookies, the perfectly posed Christmas cards, the families all around the fireplace (or the fireplace video, if you were my family). I loved Christmas, but I was increasingly growing in my disdain for it. I knew it was a time for joy and I wanted it to be a time for joy, but my empty arms would drag just a little bit heavier during the holidays. My smile took just a little bit longer to perk on my face.

In April of 2010, we found out we were expecting our first child and if all went well, s/he would arrive on Christmas Day. The irony was not lost on me. During the 3 weeks that we had to celebrate its life with us, I experienced great sadness and great rejoicing. Our little one was lost to us by the beginning of May. We were thankful for its brief life after over 5 years of hoping, wanting, waiting.

The anticipation of that particular Advent season was heavy. We carefully scheduled out a plan for the days surrounding what would have been our child’s due date. Many of our close family and friends rallied around us. My brother pulled me aside at our family Christmas celebration and gave me a hug, told me he was so sorry. My sister-in-law texted me vigorously throughout that week from across the country. While those touches, those acts of beauty did help me get through that season, there was something much more at work that year that completely shifted my grieving.

Back in May, when we lost our little one, I knew that I would not keep on going without shifting my “I’m doing okay” mindset to that of “I can’t do this on my own.” Opening myself up to the grief that had taken hold of me for nearly six years, and bringing that grief to the Lord by His grace was His love manifest to me that Advent season. There was not a day that went by between those months of May until December 25th that I did not immediately open my Bible in the morning, that I did not pray that the Lord would see me through the tasks of the coming day. There was not a day that went by that I ever thought I was existing in my own strength.

He was beautifully preparing me for that Advent season. He was gracious to do so.

December 2010 was a memorable Advent year for us. We ended up getting caught in a terrible snow storm while leaving my parents’ house on Christmas Eve. By the time we came home, we were so thankful to have made it, we fell sound asleep. We opened a few gifts on Christmas Day together as our family of two, the perfect family of two that God had ordained for us. My husband held me while I cried for a few minutes, and then we moved on with our usual couple traditions that we had established over those past 6 years. I remember that Christmas as a beautiful day. I remember this song came on our iPod and it brought me such joy…and tears. Who said joy had to be without tears? I learned that year that they could go hand in hand.

I learned that with all of my striving to be okay, to not let the perfect family Christmas card get under my skin, I was not giving all of that to the Lord. Aside from that, I was not enjoying the beautiful family He had already so graciously provided me.

Of course my sinful nature still loves to hold onto it, still loves taking hold of the jealousy, of the grief, of the idolizing of the “perfect Christmas family.”

But God continues to be gracious, He continues to meet me in my place of need. He will continue to do so through the coming Advent seasons as well because that’s who He is. He is the strength that I need to continue on with each day.

He continues to show me the beauty of the family that He has constructed for me, in His time, in His perfect plan.

You are not forgotten this season, dear friends. Please don’t take my word for it. I can do little to offer you but words on a screen.
2 Cor. 1:7: Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort.

v9. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us relay not on ourselves, but on God who raises the dead. He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again.
And in case you did not link to the song lyrics above, I’ll close with one of my favorite, simple poets of my generation, Sufjan Stevens from Christmas in the Room.

No travel plans, no shopping malls
No candy canes or Santa Claus
For as the day of rest draws near
It's just the two of us this year
No silver bells or mistletoe
We'll kiss and watch our TV shows

I'll come to you, I'll sing to you
Like it's Christmas in the room
I'll dance with you, I'll laugh with you
Until it's Christmas in the room


Kim is a fan of winter hikes with her husband of 9 years. They reside near Chicago where Kim spends her work days as a pediatric Occupational Therapist. Some of her favorite things include dark chocolate, finding new recipes to use, and spending time with her family near and far.


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Thank you for joining us in this Advent series. The comments are working again if you would like to leave a note or ask a question.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

{week three} An Advent Gift

I was on the cusp of going live with this series and I was at the losing end of a two week wait. The irony of the situation was not lost on me. If I had chosen to waste the money, I would have been on the losing end of a three minute eternity. I would have leaned heavy on the stove top for 180 seconds, watching the oven timer tick slowly down, sauntered back to the bathroom and exhaled the quiet disappointment at the expected single line glaring back at me.

Two lines on a home pregnancy test. Never seen ‘em. (Not including, of course, the time I took a pink Sharpie and drew one on there in a moment of frustrated anger and bitter humour. I know the breast cancer champions have claimed ownership of the pink Sharpie, but I’m not convinced.)

Ten years married. Countless two week waits. A handful of three minute eternities. Zero babies.

I didn’t cry this year. I had hashed out the ‘ifs’ and ‘maybes’ and ‘hopefuls’ with a friend and, as someone who worships a God capable of doing the impossible, I know that moments like these will continue to come and go for the years I live in the ‘window of opportunity’. Fertility clinics would label me as AMA now – advanced maternal age – but the biological clock keeps ticking. The ‘ifs’ and ‘maybes’ and ‘hopefuls’ won’t fade completely until that clock is silent.

This year, instead of crying, I thought of Mary. Teenager. Unwed. Pregnant.

I thought of all the women in the long line of redemptive history between the promise made in Genesis to Eve to a teenage girl being told by the arch-angel that big things were about to happen. Women raised with the ever-present hope that God’s promise could be fulfilled through them; taught to develop the aspiration of a child born of the Messianic line.

The barren women in the Old Testament were significant in the genealogy of Jesus. The ‘closing of their wombs’ carries with it the extended metaphor of expectation; unfulfilled promise. The sons they eventually bore (Isaac, Jacob, Esau, Samson, Samuel, John) were key players in redemptive history. Barrenness was more than a medical condition: it was a physical analogy of expectation, promise, salvation… the ability of a faithful God to work in extraordinary ways on behalf of His chosen ones.

Two thousand years. Countless women and babies. And now? A pregnant teenager.

A secret from the heart of the infertile: we don’t understand teen pregnancy. We don’t understand why a messed-up teenager gets a baby when we don’t. It’s probably the least gracious we ever feel, and while our minds know that God has a purpose and an intention to work good, our primal reflex – that raw, immediate gut reaction – is an angry ‘Really, God?!’. True story.

This year, when I considered Mary, I wondered how her young heart dealt with all this. And I marveled at God’s timing… for Mary and Elizabeth to spend three months together. My 21st century mind wants to impose all sorts of western, modern emotion onto the scene: to assume Elizabeth had to bite back bitterness; to wonder whether she secretly dreaded Mary’s arrival.

Scripture is so unwaveringly clear on Elizabeth’s response, however. Enough to makes my infertile heart cringe a bit. Elizabeth is overjoyed. She grasps the entire magnitude of the virgin birth. She is, after all, one of two millennia of expectant women who had prayed fervently to be Mary: fertile and barren alike.
Perspective is a gift when going through difficult times. We need it like we need air to breathe. Perspective hides us beneath the refuge of His wings; lifts us to the Rock that is higher than any circumstance we could travel though.

Elizabeth understood this perspective. Mary lived from this perspective…

Through grace and mercy underserved, we are able to do the same. We can look forward through an Advent season (no matter how bleak, difficult or ragged it seems) in order to look back and see the promise of a faithful God fulfilled. To see a virgin give birth… a King in a manger… God with Us come to earth; to see a God lavishly committed to working in mysterious, extraordinary ways on behalf of His chosen ones.

Circumstances change. God’s character does not.
Perspective: this is your gift this Advent.

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Thank you for joining us in this Advent series. The comments are working again if you would like to leave a note or ask a question.